Roman Catholic Vs. Catholic: Is There a Real Difference

By Paul King •  Updated: 10/09/23 •  16 min read

One might question whether there is a true distinction between Roman Catholicism and Catholicism. However, when we delve into the historical background, doctrinal differences, worship practices, leadership structure, and global presence of both denominations, we can gain a deeper understanding of any potential disparities between these two branches of Christianity.

Let us explore these aspects using relevant facts and quotes from the Bible.

The term ‘Catholic’ itself means ‘universal’ or ‘general,’ emphasizing the belief that the Church is open to all people. This idea stems from various biblical verses, such as Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus instructs his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ This universal mission is shared by both Roman Catholicism and Catholicism, as they strive to spread the teachings of Jesus to all corners of the world.

When it comes to the historical background, both Roman Catholicism and Catholicism trace their roots back to the early Christian Church. The Bible serves as a primary source for understanding this history, with the Acts of the Apostles detailing the formation and growth of the early Christian communities. The story of Pentecost, found in Acts 2, highlights the unity and diversity within the early Church, as people from different nations and languages came together in faith.

In terms of doctrinal differences, it is important to note that Roman Catholicism and Catholicism share a common set of core beliefs. These include the belief in the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Bible, and the importance of sacraments. However, some nuances exist within certain doctrines, such as the belief in papal infallibility, which is a distinctive aspect of Roman Catholicism. This belief asserts that the Pope, as the successor of Saint Peter, is protected from error when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals. This concept finds its roots in Matthew 16:18-19, where Jesus grants Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

When it comes to worship practices, both Roman Catholicism and Catholicism emphasize the importance of communal worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. The Mass, which is central to both traditions, is a reenactment of the Last Supper, where Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The biblical account of the Last Supper, found in Matthew 26:26-28, serves as a foundation for this practice, reminding believers of the sacrificial love of Christ.

In terms of leadership structure, Roman Catholicism and Catholicism both acknowledge the Pope as the spiritual leader of the Church. However, the exact nature and extent of the Pope’s authority can vary between the two traditions. This distinction stems from different interpretations of biblical passages, such as Matthew 16:18-19 and John 21:15-17, where Jesus appoints Peter as the ‘rock’ upon which the Church is built and commissions him to feed his sheep.

Lastly, the global presence of both denominations is significant, with millions of followers spread across the world. This widespread presence can be attributed to the missionary efforts of both Roman Catholicism and Catholicism, as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission mentioned in Matthew 28:19-20. These efforts have resulted in diverse Christian communities throughout the globe, enriching the Church with different cultures and traditions.

In conclusion, while there are some nuanced differences between Roman Catholicism and Catholicism, both branches of Christianity share a common foundation in the teachings of Jesus Christ. By studying the historical background, doctrinal differences, worship practices, leadership structure, and global presence of these denominations, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the unity and diversity within the broader Catholic Church.

Key Takeaways

Historical Background

The distinction between Roman Catholic and Catholic can be traced back to the East-West Schism in 1054. This schism marked the formal separation between the Catholic Church in the West, centered in Rome, and the Orthodox Church in the East, centered in Constantinople. Prior to this division, the term ‘Catholic’ was used universally to refer to the Church as a whole. However, it is important to understand the historical context and biblical basis for this division.

In the Bible, the word ‘Catholic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘katholikos,’ which means ‘universal’ or ‘general.’ Jesus himself prayed for the unity of believers in John 17:20-23, saying, ‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’

However, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church grew. This led to its identification with the term ‘Roman Catholic.’ It is important to note that the term ‘Roman’ does not appear in the Bible when referring to the Church. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:7, ‘To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

The Bible teaches us to be united as one body in Christ, regardless of geographical or political divisions. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, it is written, ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.’

While the historical context of the East-West Schism has had significant implications for the development of doctrine and practice within the Catholic Church, it is crucial to remember the teachings of the Bible and strive for unity among believers. As Romans 15:5-6 reminds us, ‘May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Doctrinal Differences

Doctrinal distinctions between the two religious denominations have been subjects of scholarly analysis and debate. One of the key differences lies in their sacramental theology. The Roman Catholic Church holds to the belief in seven sacraments, which are seen as outward signs of inward grace, while the Catholic Church recognizes only two sacraments, namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In understanding the sacraments, we can turn to the words of Jesus Himself in the Bible. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructs His disciples, saying, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ Here, we see the importance of baptism as a sacrament in both denominations.

Furthermore, in the Gospel of Luke, during the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread and wine and says, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19). These words form the foundation of the Lord’s Supper, another sacrament recognized by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic Church.

Moving on to the topic of Marian beliefs, we can look to the biblical account of Mary’s role in the birth of Jesus. In Luke 1:31-33, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, ‘You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

Based on this biblical account, it is evident that Mary played a significant role as the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. However, it is important to note that the Catholic Church does not attribute divine attributes to Mary. Instead, they acknowledge her importance and honor her as the mother of Jesus.

These doctrinal distinctions have shaped the theological perspectives and religious practices of both denominations. Understanding these differences can help us appreciate the unique worship practices of each denomination.

Worship Practices

Worship practices in these religious denominations are guided by the principles and teachings found in the Holy Bible. As the scripture says in Psalm 100:4, ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.’ This verse highlights the importance of expressing gratitude and praise to God during worship.

In both the Roman Catholic and Catholic Churches, the liturgical traditions are deeply rooted in the sacraments and rituals that hold significant spiritual importance. These traditions are not merely human inventions, but they have their origins in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the practices of the early Christian community. As it is written in Acts 2:42, ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’ This verse emphasizes the early Christians’ commitment to the teaching of the apostles, which included the celebration of the Eucharist.

The celebration of the Mass is central to both denominations, where the Eucharist is consecrated and consumed as a sacred act of communion with God. Jesus himself instituted this sacrament during the Last Supper, as mentioned in Luke 22:19-20, ‘And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” These words of Jesus highlight the significance of the Eucharist in the life of believers.

The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage, holy orders, and anointing of the sick are also observed in both churches. Each of these sacraments has its biblical basis and serves as a means of grace and spiritual growth. For example, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructs his disciples to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ This verse emphasizes the importance of baptism as a symbol of initiation into the Christian faith.

However, it is important to note that while these sacraments are common to both churches, there may be slight variations in the specific rituals and prayers used during these sacraments. These variations reflect the diversity within the Christian community and do not diminish the spiritual significance of the sacraments themselves.

The liturgical calendar, which includes feast days and seasons such as Advent and Lent, is also an integral part of worship in both denominations. These seasons provide opportunities for believers to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As written in Romans 6:4, ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ This verse reminds believers of the transformative power of Christ’s resurrection and encourages them to live a new life in Him.

These liturgical traditions and rituals provide a framework for believers to connect with the divine and deepen their spiritual journey. As we explore the worship practices of these denominations, it is important to have a solid foundation in the teachings of the Bible and seek to understand how these practices draw us closer to God.

Leadership Structure

The leadership structure within these religious denominations plays a crucial role in the organization and functioning of their respective communities. The Bible teaches us the importance of strong and faithful leaders who guide and shepherd God’s people. In Romans 12:8, it says, ‘if it is leadership, let him govern diligently.’ This emphasizes the need for leaders to govern with diligence and integrity.

In Roman Catholicism, the Pope is considered the highest authority and is believed to have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus himself. This is based on Matthew 16:18-19, where Jesus says to Peter, ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ The Pope exercises his papal authority through various administrative bodies and departments, ensuring the unity and coherence of the Church.

Beneath the Pope, there is a clergy hierarchy consisting of bishops, priests, and deacons who each have specific roles and responsibilities within the Church. In 1 Timothy 3:2, it says, ‘Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.’ This verse highlights the qualities expected of bishops, who serve as the primary leaders within their respective dioceses.

The clergy hierarchy, including priests and deacons, assists in the administration and spiritual guidance of the faithful. In 1 Peter 5:2-3, it says, ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.’ This emphasizes the role of priests and deacons as shepherds, diligently caring for and guiding God’s people.

The Bible provides us with many stories that exemplify the importance of strong leadership within religious communities. One such story is that of Moses, who was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Exodus 18:21 tells us that Moses was advised by his father-in-law Jethro to select capable and God-fearing men to assist him in the task of leadership. This story serves as a reminder that effective leadership requires wisdom, discernment, and reliance on God.

Transitioning into the subsequent section about the global presence of Roman Catholicism and Catholicism, it is important to recognize that the leadership structure discussed above is not confined to a particular region or country. Instead, it extends to a global scale, with the Pope serving as the spiritual leader of millions of Catholics worldwide. This global presence aligns with the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20, where he instructs his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ The leadership structure within these denominations facilitates the widespread dissemination of the faith, promoting unity and solidarity among believers across different cultures and nations.

Understanding the leadership structure within these denominations is fundamental to comprehending the impact they have on the lives of individuals and the broader society, both locally and globally. The Bible provides us with guidance and wisdom on the qualities and responsibilities of leaders, and it is through these leaders that the Church can effectively carry out its mission of spreading the teachings of Christ and providing spiritual nourishment to its members.

Global Presence

Transitioning into the subsequent section about the global presence of these denominations, it is important to recognize their influence and reach on a worldwide scale. The Roman Catholic and Catholic denominations have a significant impact on cultural diversity and evangelization efforts around the world. With a long history and a large number of followers, these denominations have established a presence in various countries and continents.

One biblical story that highlights the global presence of these denominations is the Great Commission mentioned in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus instructs his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. This commandment has been the driving force behind the evangelization efforts of these denominations, inspiring them to spread the teachings and values of Christianity to people from different backgrounds and cultures.

The apostle Paul, in his missionary journeys, played a crucial role in the establishment of churches in various parts of the world. His travels and teachings are chronicled in the book of Acts, providing a real-life example of the global reach of these denominations. Paul’s dedication to spreading the gospel message to both Jews and Gentiles showcases the inclusivity and universal nature of Christianity.

In addition to missionary work, the Catholic and Roman Catholic denominations have also actively engaged in establishing churches and educational institutions globally. These institutions serve as centers of spiritual growth and learning, allowing individuals and communities to deepen their understanding of the faith.

One inspiring example is the establishment of the Universidad de Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines, by the Dominican Order in 1611. This university, which is still operational today, has played a significant role in shaping the intellectual and spiritual landscape of the country. It has produced many influential figures in various fields and continues to be an important institution of higher education.

Through their global presence and efforts, these denominations continue to touch the lives of individuals and communities, fostering spiritual growth and social change. As stated in Acts 1:8, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ This verse emphasizes the universal mission of Christians to spread the message of salvation to the farthest corners of the world.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.